The Continental Divide-Creston gas drilling project, which would be the largest in Wyoming, could add nearly 9,000 new wells on more than 6,100 well pads in Carbon and Sweetwater counties, creating thousands of jobs, but it needs to be done right, said Gov. Matt Mead.

In comments about the project’s draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) filed with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Mead said he supports the project but wants to ensure that it is done in a way that reduces environmental impacts and maximizes production. He urged BLM to use proper reclamation to benefit wildlife and grazing permittees, and to do a more thorough analysis of socioeconomic impacts of each alternative.

Mead also asked BLM to work with cooperating agencies to select a preferred alternative within the DEIS before making a final decision. “Without the benefit of knowing the BLM’s preferred alternative, the public is required to evaluate the entire document, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to understand what mix of development and surface use best accomplishes the purpose and need,” Mead wrote.

And Mead called on BLM to work with Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which he said has performed for the project the most comprehensive baseline air quality research for any oil and gas project in state history.

“I expect the BLM to engage DEQ in its technical analysis and regulatory response. This partnership ensures avoidance, minimization and mitigation of air quality impacts. I encourage operators to work with the DEQ to implement the best available technology, not only when a permit requires such action, but as a matter of common practice.”

The Continental Divide-Creston project would extend natural gas drilling in Carbon and Sweetwater counties. More than 20 exploration and production operators are part of the proposed additional drilling, led by BP America Production Co., according to BLM (see Daily GPI, Jan. 9). If approved, the 15-year expansion program could add up to 8,950 new wells on more than 6,100 well pads in a 1.1 million-acre area, most of it on federally owned land, stretching from 25 miles west of Rawlins to within 50 miles east of Rock Springs.

According to BLM estimates, the additional wells could produce up to 12.02 Tcf during a projected 30- to 40-year lifespan.

Environmental groups, including the Wyoming Outdoor Council, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Natural Resources Defense Council have called on BLM to impose stronger air pollution controls and land protections on the Continental Divide-Creston project. In comments filed with BLM, the groups said the DEIS “underestimates emissions from project sources, does not consider the likely negative contributions to ozone pollution levels in the nearby Upper Green River Basin nonattainment area, and fails to ensure compliance via adequate emissions monitoring and self-certification requirements, among other things.

“With a project this large and this close to an existing area of unhealthy air pollution, it is imperative that the BLM gets this right,” said Jon Goldstein, EDF senior energy policy manager. “The BLM must ensure that it takes every measure it can to protect air quality, including doing some commonsense things like detecting and controlling pollution leaks from equipment.”

The DEIS is assessing the potential impacts from well pads, gas and water collection pipelines, compressor stations, water disposal systems, access roads and electrical distribution systems.

BLM first issued a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement and related scoping process for the Continental Divide-Creston project seven years ago (see Daily GPI, March 8, 2006).

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